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Wednesday, November 11 2015


I got a request from a reader to do a post about how we juggle this large pack of dogs since she is now dealing with personality issues herself, so here is my attempt to muddy the waters. First and foremost, it ain't Cesar Millan around here. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Dog Whisperer hater, I actually like some of his stuff, but if I let my dogs run together in one Disney movie inspired pack, Trace and Cowboy would be dead, and Dillon would have no ears. We have so many players around here that you need a score card just to keep them straight.

So no, it's not a Disney movie, it's more like a penitentiary with prison gangs. And truly, it's all because of two dogs - Trace & Cowboy.

Things used to be somewhat rosie around here until Other Half rescued Cowboy, the half-crippled Border Collie. He is the canine equivalent of Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver. He makes nice-nice with adults (humans) while being hateful to the other kids (dogs) behind the humans' back. This leaves adults with the impression that Eddie Haskell is a nice boy when in reality, he's a dick. (I'm just sayin'.) That pretty much sums up Cowboy. If you didn't have any other dogs, you'd think he was a really neat dog whose only crime was lifting his leg and marking on everything. But as soon as he moved in, Cowboy immediately started trouble with poor little Ranger, the blue heeler. Instead of openly growling, Cowboy fanned his ears, lowered his head, and did feigning attacks if  behind a barrier. Ranger would oblige him by kicking his crippled ass. We discovered quickly that they couldn't even be in adjoining pens because they would rip each other's noses up. Thus ended any harmony in our family.

So if you're marking your scorecard, Cowboy must be kept away from Ranger.

Cowboy must also be kept away from Dillon, the Labrador, for the same reason. Dillon and Ranger both will leave Cowboy alone, but Cowboy starts stuff he can't finish. If left unsupervised, Dillon would kill Cowboy. Cowboy is Snidley Whiplash and Dillon is Dudley Do-Right on steroids. He's sweet, and slow to anger, but don't attack him. He will kill you.

This leads us to Trace, the red Border Collie. Trace is good with everyone but Dillon. Trace launches unprovoked attacks on the innocent Dillon, who will then proceed to shake him and choke him until he's crapping on himself and gasping like a fish out of water. You would think he would learn. Trace wasn't always dog aggressive. In fact, we had never seen any kind of aggression in him until Dillon hit puberty. Then Trace decided that Dillon needed to be eliminated. I have never completely understood his open aggression toward Dillon since it has never ended well for Trace. Dillon does not start a fight, but he will end one.

So back to the scorecard: Cowboy cannot be kept with Ranger or Dillon, but can be kept with Trace. He bullies Trace, but then Trace deserves a lot of it. When Trace does the same sneak attacks on him that he does on Dillon, Cowboy responds by grabbing him by the muzzle and slamming him into the ground. That has resulted in linear scars on Trace's muzzle, but to my knowledge these two have never gotten into an actual fight.

Back to the scorecards: Trace can be kept with Cowboy, and Trace can also be kept with Ranger. He sees both Cowboy and Ranger as adults. Dillon is the target for his aggression.

Seeing this, it's tempting to assume that Dillon is the problem but that is not the case. Dillon is not aggressive. He's a happy guy as long as you don't attack him, or try to push him out of his food (Ranger).  Dillon and Ranger can be kept together but I have to watch them because from time to time Ranger will decide that he is the top dog and thus he can shove Dillon away from his food or bone or toy. Over the years this has resulted in just four dog fights. We pull Dillon off Ranger and separate them for a few hours. Once Dillon calms down he is back to being a happy goof and Ranger is a little wiser. In short, Dillon and Ranger are civilized. They have lapses, but for the most part, they make an effort to keep a stable pack relationship.

Now on to the girls:

Lily is a bitch, but she does not fight. Not with anyone. Lily will correct everyone in the pack because she is the Keeper Of the Rules, the Sergeant At Arms. Rules are very important to her and as such, she does not hesitate to point it out when someone else is breaking them. That said, Lily does not involve herself in dog fights should one break out. She knows that participating in dog fights is frowned upon by the establishment. Lily must be protected from Briar. Briar dislikes Lily but tolerates her most of the time. I never, I repeat NEVER, leave them alone together. Briar once caught Lily coming through the pasture gate and attacked her. Trace joined in because that's what Trace does. Briar is so powerful I could not get her off Lily who made no attempt to defend herself. Other Half heard the fight and came to help. He had to kick Briar and Trace off of Lily. Had we not been there, they would have killed the little dog.

I see shades of Trace in Mesa. At the moment she is not yet a year old and gets along with everyone. Like Lily, she is into micromanaging other members of the pack, but unlike Lily, I see a ruthless streak in her, just like Trace. I used to worry that she would start to bully Lily, thus earning her a spot with the Mean Dog Pack (with Trace and Cowboy), but I haven't seen it yet. Mesa gets along with everyone. I do watch her closely around Briar and do not leave them alone together. Mesa irritates Briar because she lavishes unwanted affection on the big dog. Briar still treats Mesa as an annoying puppy.

This brings us back to Briar. Briar is not the sweet, lovable goof that she appears to be in her pictures. (That's Dillon.) Briar can be a force of nature. She is big and powerful and does not hesitate to throw her weight around. Fortunately Briar is not dog aggressive. She just asks to be left alone. And leave her sheep alone.

The Livestock Guardian Dogs are a special issue since they are not technically part of the pack. They fall into the Livestock category. They stay outside 100% of the time. They are not pets. If we didn't have livestock we would not need the Livestock Guardian Dogs. Because we actually live in the barn though, with sheep and goats wandering around the yard, efforts must be made to pay  attention to how Guardian Dog personalities mesh with House Dog personalities. Judge and Jury tower over everyone but Briar and they are only 5 months old. I'm already mentally gearing up for male dog issues with those two, both between themselves, and with the other male dogs in the family. This will force us to juggle more personalities but because the Anatolians are working dogs, their needs trump everyone elses.

So Linda, I'm sure you wanted to know how the day to day juggling actually works. Here goes:

The Anatolians sleep in the Night Pens with the sheep and goats. The Mean Dog Pack (Trace & Cowboy) stays outside at night with the Livestock Guardian Dogs. Trace and Cowboy are loose with Briar and Aja. Aja, the retired patrol dog, keeps a safe distance from Briar who distrusts her and from time to time has kicked her butt. Trace and Aja stay inside the barn and wander into the barn yard to bark at things. Briar and Cowboy sleep in the barn yard and leave the property from time to time to chase coyotes on the other side of the fence. Briar climbs over or under the fence. Cowboy climbs under and then cannot figure out how he got out so sometimes we have to go out in the dark and help him crawl his cripple butt back under the fence. Both he and Briar walk cattle guards like one of the Flying Wallendas.

Dillon, Lily, Mesa, and Ranger sleep in the house at night. I get up before Other Half, so in the morning. I move those dogs into the muck room. I then open the kitchen door and shuffle in the Night Shift Dogs (Trace, Cowboy, and Aja) and put them in the bedroom with Other Half. After this I can open the muck room door into the barn aisle and release the Day Shift dogs to run and play while I do chores. I let the Anatolian puppies out of the sheep pens so they can interact with the House Dog pack, thus enabling them to familiarize themselves with family members now while they are little. The Anatolians are best friends with Mesa. They all race and play in the pond. Dillon and Briar go hunt rats together in the cactus. Lily and Ranger do chores with me.

After the sheep finish eating and I milk the goats, I can turn the livestock loose. We have outside kennel runs and so when I'm ready to go inside I either bring the Border Collie girls with me, or lock them in one of the kennels with Dillon. Ranger can stay loose outside. He doesn't roam away or eat sheep. The Anatolians stay loose with the livestock unless we leave the house. Then they have to go into a pen because I don't want them to accidentally get in with the cattle or horses who may kill them.

So my advice to Linda is this: Know your pack and don't take chances. Your Pyrenees can kill your Corgi even though the Corgi may start it. Don't leave them alone unsupervised. At the very least, use baby gates to provide some kind of barrier. Even though Dillon and Ranger get along, when I leave the house, I separate them. Just like good fences make good neighbors, dog crates and separate rooms keep harmony in the pack. All it takes is one visitor to knock on the door, or one stray cat walking past the fence to cause a bark fest which erupts into a dog fight. Anticipate that and save them from themselves.

Juggling dogs is not easy and it's not fun. We would not have this many dogs if we didn't have a ranch. As dogs die out, I forsee a future with only Border Collies and Anatolians because they seem to fit our ranch needs best. That doesn't mean we'd have less dogs though. As I've said before, you need a collection of tools, and each dog brings certain skills.

Linda, I hope this has answered some of your questions. Please understand one thing though. People will tell you that they run large groups of dogs together and they don't have any problems because THEY are the top dog in that household and fights aren't tolerated. The emphasis is on establishing dominance between the human and dog. My answer to that is that they haven't had the right combination of dogs yet. It lulls them into a false sense of security. That idea works with civilized dogs like Dillon and Ranger. Add something nutty like Cowboy or Trace and the pack dynamics shift greatly. The other dogs can and will vote those idiots off the island.  Do not let human hubris kill your dog, even if he brought it on himself. Dogs are animals and do not play by our artificial human rules.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:27 am   |  Permalink   |  7 Comments  |  Email
Comments:
Memories...... and I only had to keep a Pyr and Maremma {females] separated. It was the need to be the top bark here that caused the main problems in a group of 6 [LGD]
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust) on 11/11/2015 - 02:05 PM
(long post, in two parts) Aah, the dog shuffle! My uncle who raised Springers advised me that boy dogs will fight to prove themselves, girls will fight to kill. And that has been my experience, too. Not with Springers but a whole range of dogs from Bernese Mtn Dogs to Catahoulas to Anatolians. We once had a visiting female in to breed with our gentle male Catahoula. Flor was seriously female aggressive and damn near did kill one of ours. Kiddie gates to the rescue. The boys often were triggered to fight each other if they were in a tight space, like a doorway or hallway -- inadvertent bumps mistaken for aggressive bumps or impertinence.
Posted by Tina G on 11/11/2015 - 03:57 PM
(part 2) The only other lesson we learned is that dogs do NOT like a democracy. When we started treating dogs according to their pack rank, much tension eased. Alpha male and alpha female are always fed first, greeted first, let out first, etc. We even ranked their kennels, with alphas closest to the door. Lower ranking dogs were clearly relieved not to be treated as alphas or equal to alphas. Some alphas are more benign or benevolent than others, but we still respect their hierarchy. All that said, nothing is simple and personality, temperament and job duties can muck things up. I often think the dogs are looking at me thinking, "Humans! they can be so dense!"
Posted by Tina G on 11/11/2015 - 03:58 PM
My old Rat Terrier mix never learned not to start things with my gentle GSD. The GSD never failed to finish what the Rat Terrier started. Some dogs just don't care what the humans want. They can't fight their instinct to start something. Seperation is the only answer.
Posted by Patty on 11/11/2015 - 05:15 PM
I wonder if Dillon is the focus of so much aggression because he is the odd man out (not a herding dog). Labs certainly act different from most herding breeds, even humans can see large differences, so what the dogs see must be enormous.
Posted by Rebecca on 11/12/2015 - 10:21 AM
I think you are right, Rebecca. Dillon is the odd man ought. He is such a goofball that his very presence irritates the herding dogs even if he isn't interacting with them. Dillon can act very much like the character in Elf. He exudes sweetness but the Border Collies choke on that kind of sugar.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 11/28/2015 - 08:27 AM
Odd man "OUT" not ought. Good grief.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 11/28/2015 - 08:29 AM

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